The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After months of debate, House Democrats strike deal to fund police

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), left foreground, and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) confer between votes Tuesday on Capitol Hill. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

House Democrats reached an agreement Wednesday to vote on a series of bills that provide millions of dollars to local law enforcement and also include accountability measures.

The deal is a result of months of back and forth between centrist Democrats and the left flank of the caucus. Some Democrats had urged passage of the package ahead of the midterm elections as a counter to GOP attacks that paint Democrats as anti-police. Moderate and vulnerable swing-district Democrats have argued that “defund the police” language led to the party losing a surprising number of House seats in the 2020 election.

Those involved with the negotiations gave credit to the Congressional Black Caucus, particularly Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), for moderating negotiations between centrist and liberal lawmakers over the summer. Liberals joined CBC members in initially objecting to a vote for any police funding bill that did not include accountability provisions when leaders tried to pass the package over the summer.

“There is no perfect bill and there is no perfect answer,” Beatty said of the compromise. “All of my members will not necessarily be celebrating or honoring it, but we will continue to work.”

Leadership had intended to pass a more robust public safety package in July, tying it to legislation that would ban assault weapons. But members of the Black and Progressive caucuses balked, arguing that any police funding bill should also have language that addresses police accountability.

Beatty, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and leaders ultimately reached a deal to add specific details into the moderates’ proposals, but Progressive Caucus members and civil rights groups successfully lobbied to separate the assault weapons ban from the public safety package.

That episode became the most recent headache for Democratic leaders as they try to appease factions within their caucus who represent disparate groups of voters. It has remained a struggle that has at times defined the caucus this term as members work to overcome differences at the last minute in an effort to salvage legislative priorities.

House Democrats left for their August recess with the promise that they would return to pass the public safety priorities, adding another win into their messaging arsenal ahead of November.

But according to multiple members and aides who support funding the police, members were in no rush to pass the package for fear that doing so would expose deep divisions within the caucus at a time when Democrats were finally seeing some voter enthusiasm return after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade during the summer.

Party leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus chair, and moderate and liberal lawmakers, including CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), reached a deal Wednesday hours after beginning final negotiations with the goal of voting before the House adjourns next week to campaign ahead of the midterms.

The groups were able to strike a deal with Gottheimer to fund police departments with 125 officers or fewer and direct some money to officer training, community safety and police accountability. The money may not be used to make new hires but can be used for signing bonuses as well as mental health efforts.

“It’s critical for policing that we have the backs of law enforcement, because every day they have ours,” Gottheimer said.

Democrats will also vote on legislation proposed by Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and Val Demings (D-Fla.) that prioritizes sending unarmed first responders into situations involving people experiencing a mental health crisis; provides federal grants for communities practicing violence intervention and prevention; and offers assistance to law enforcement in solving gun crimes and supporting shooting victims.

However, even if the House passes the legislation along party lines, it is not a priority for an evenly split Senate. It is unlikely 10 Republicans would join Democrats to overcome the Senate filibuster.

To be sure, it was difficult for House Democrats to reach this moment. Negotiators decided to pull a bipartisan bill proposed by Spanberger and Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) from the package since an agreement was not reached on police accountability after the lawmakers had proposed doubling funding for a Justice Department grant given to local police stations. Spanberger said accountability measures were difficult to include in her proposal because it is a long-standing program and not a new one that can more easily be molded, like the Gottheimer bill for small police departments.

Another proposal by Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) that would give the Justice Department $50 million for marketing campaigns to help recruit police officers nationwide also was removed.

Leadership intends to hold a vote on the public safety package Thursday, but Democratic factions acknowledged Wednesday it will still be a tough vote for many who believe more needs to be done either on accountability or helping law enforcement.

“I can’t guarantee that the whole caucus will (support it),” Jayapal said.

With the impasse largely resolved, Democrats are poised to pass the bills ahead of their October recess, a win for moderates seeking to counter the narrative that their party is against law enforcement. But many Black and liberal lawmakers are still hoping that future Congresses can push more accountability measures.

“Yes, it’s a midyear election. But more importantly than that, we need accountabilities and we need to do this to keep our communities safer,” Beatty said. “Remember, people over politics.”

Loading...